Pocket Full of Rain and Other Stories


By Jason, edited and translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-934-0 (TPB)

John Arne Sæterøy works under the pen-name Jason. He was born in Molde, Norway in 1965, and exploded onto the international cartoonists scene at age 30 with a series of short – often autobiographical – strips and graphic novels. His anthological first book, Lomma Full av Regn won the Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize) and forms the meat of this review. This is it translated into English and you can read it in paperback or digital editions.

He followed up with the series Mjau Mjau (winning another Sproing in 2001) and in 2002 turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. He is now an international icon, basking in fame and critical status, winning seven major awards as far afield as France, Slovakia and the USA and all areas in-between.

Later stories utilise a small repertory cast of anthropomorphic animal characters (as well as occasional movie and pop culture monsters), delivered in highly formal page layouts telling dark, wry and sardonically bleak tales – often pastiches, if not outright parodies – rendered in a coldly austere and Spartan manner. This seemingly oppressive format somehow allows a simply vast range of emotionally telling tales on a wide spectrum of themes and genres to hit home like rockets whether the author’s intention was to make readers smile or cry like a baby.

Drawing in a minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style, Jason’s work bores right into the reader’s core, but here fans and students can see the development of that unique vision in a series of pictorial tales – many clearly experimental in nature from – taken from Mjau Mjau, Forresten, Fidus, TEGN, Lomma Full av Regn and Humorparaden as the young artist grasps his muse but still hunts for a style vehicle to carry his thoughts…

An Introduction by novelist and educator James Sturm is preceded by an observational encounter with a human derelict and followed by short absurdist slice-of-life moments including an unpleasant confrontation in the desert and a manhunt across the world and beyond it that evolves into an examination of love.

The experimental procession is followed by edgy cartoon hijinks and therapeutic café discourses in anthropomorphic yarn ‘Carl Cat in What Time is It?’, after which an age-old masculine dilemma is covered in ‘What Shall I Do When I Lose My Hair?’

Autobiographical introspection informs single pagers ‘Film’, ‘Night’ and an untitled gag about playing solitaire, before ‘Bus’ and croquet-playing nuns give way to the tragic tale of ‘Edwin!’ whilst ‘Two Yrs’ deals with isolation and meagre youthful aspirations and ‘Invasion of the Giant Snails’ offers an early mash-up of genre movie scenes before we see that the Truth is not necessarily Out anywhere in spoof strip ‘XPilt’.

‘Corto Meowtese’ provides a loving salutation to classic European strips before ‘Space Cat’ offers similar tribute to Basil Wolverton’s legendary Space Hawk, whilst echoes of Samuel Beckett shade a tense situation involving Earnest Hemingway in ‘Papa’. Mordant laughs trace ‘My Life as a Zombie’ and penal absurdity triumphs in extended act of whimsy ‘10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 …Lift Off!’ before relationship woes and human interaction are scrutinised in ‘Falling’.

Nightmarish surrealism underpins vignettes ‘Kill the Cat’, school shocker ‘Chalk’, home invasion chiller ‘Glass’ and police drama ‘the thief’ to conclude the narrative efforts but there’s still plenty to enjoy. The tales thus far have been monochrome strips interspersed with pin-up style images and found art and they are now supplemented with a wealth of multihued material including Colour covers for Mjau Mjau (#2, 4, 5), hilariously irreverent strip ‘Playing Trivial Pursuit with God’, Sleppefest and so much more.

A full Table of Contents then lists the origins of each offering with publishing information and author’s commentary.

Jason’s comic tales are strictly for adults but allow us all to look at the world through wide-open childish eyes, exploring love, loss, life, death and all aspects of relationship politics without ever descending into mawkishness or simple, easy buffoonery.

He is a taste instantly acquired and a creator any true fan of the medium should move to the top of their “Must-Have” list.
All characters, stories, and artwork © 2008 Jason. Lomma Full av Regn and Mitt Liv Som Zombie published in Norway by Jippi Forlag. All right reserved.

James Bond™ volume 3: Black Box


By Benjamin Percy, Rapha Lobosco, Chris O’Halloran, Simon Bowland & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-5241-0409-2

James Bond is the ultimate secret agent. You all know that and have – thanks to the multi-media empire that has grown up around Ian Fleming’s masterful creation – your own vision of what he looks like and what he does. That’s what dictates how you respond to the latest movie, game or novel.

Amongst those various iterations are some exceedingly enjoyable comicbook and newspaper strip versions detailing the further exploits of 007 which have never truly found the appreciation they rightly deserve. This collection is one of the most recent, compiling a 6-issue miniseries from licensing specialists Dynamite Entertainment. Their take was originally redefined by Warren Ellis & illustrator Jason Masters, who jettisoned decades of gaudy paraphernalia accumulating around the ultimate franchise hero, opting instead for a stripped-down, pared-back, no-nonsense iteration who is all business.

Benjamin Percy accepted the poisoned chalice of following on, and here blends the austere power of the reboot with his own tributes to the movie contributions of the Roger Moore era. Capably and effectively handling the visuals is Rapha Lobosco, with colours and letters supplied by Chris O’Halloran, and Bowland respectively.

It begins with Bond in the French Alps, stalking an assassin, but his licence to kill proves unnecessary as his target is lethally excised by another sharpshooter, who then escapes him in a rollercoaster ski race down the mountain slopes. Perhaps 007 was distracted by her skill or maybe her great – albeit slightly scarred – beauty…

Returning to MI6 HQ in Vauxhall Cross, Bond picks up his next assignment: eradicating the perpetrators of a hack which has captured vital Crown political information and recovering the stolen data.

The hack originated in Tokyo and soon Bond is executing Operation Black Box, supported and supplied by department armorer Boothroyd. The wily technician is also – unofficially – helping to ascertain the identity of the woman who bested Bond in the Alps…

The hacker’s trail leads to the nefarious Shinjuku District and a plush Yakuza gambling den, where the British agent meets and calamitously clashes with aging billionaire Saga Genji. The tech wizard is the proud culprit of the data grab and almost succeeds in gruesomely removing the interfering agent until the mysterious woman resurfaces to murderously intervene…

When CIA comrade Felix Leiter shows up, the terrifying global scope of Genji’s plans becomes apparent and a race to secure the Black Box (for the rulers of a host of greedily ambitious nations) turns allies into merciless competitors with the entire world’s dirty secrets as the prize.

Meanwhile, Genji has supplemented his loyal army of thugs with a barely human serial killer dubbed No Name: an unstoppable psychopath who takes faces for his keepsakes and is now utterly devoted to adding Bond and his annoying female accomplice to his tally at any cost…

With the clock ticking down to international information Armageddon and bloody death and destruction constantly dogging them, Bond and his enigmatic ally overcome all odds to invade Genji’s secret base and secure all the World’s dirty laundry, only to discover at the end that their aims are not entirely similar…

Packed with all the traditional set-pieces such as exotic locales, spectacular car chases and astoundingly protracted fight sequences, this is a rip-roaring romp fans will love, supported by Bonus Material including a gallery of covers by Dominic Reardon and a host of variants from John Cassaday, Jason Masters, Goni Montes, Moritat, Lobosco, Giovanni Valletta, Patrick Zircher and Matt Taylor; an interview with author Percy by Will Nevin first seen in the Oregonian and the full script for issue #1, accompanied by its equivalent line art.

This thrill-filled espionage episode is fast, furious and impeccably stylish: in short, another perfect James Bond thriller.

Try it and see for yourselves…
© 2017 Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. James Bond and 007 are ™ Danjaq LLC, used under license by Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Silverfish


By David Lapham (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1048-9 (HB)                    978-1-4012-1049-6 (TPB)

Although far-travelled and adept with all genres of graphic narrative David Lapham is inextricably linked to Crime stories: a discipline that elevated him to comics’ top rank (see for example Stray Bullets and Murder Me Dead) with this superbly evocative all-original yarn for the creator-owned Vertigo imprint, tailor-made to become a major motion picture. Yet somehow, even after a decade, it hasn’t yet, or even made it to more accessible eBook formats yet. As ever, we live in hope…

Troubled teenager Mia Fleming doesn’t like her new stepmom, Suzanne. That’s not uncommon. However, when the sulky brat steals Suzanne’s diary, makes prank calls and snoops in her closet, she sets in motion a storm of bloody violence and terrifying consequences for her friends, her family, and ultimately the entire town of Seaside Heights, New Jersey.

Lapham has always had a chillingly direct line to contemporary America and his skill in exploring and exhibiting the simmering violence in that too-often dysfunctional society is put to efficient and engrossing effect in this fascinating blend of psycho-thriller and teen-slasher tale, drawn with simple, provocative clarity in moody, powerful monochrome tones.

If you’re a comics missionary and ardent advocate of adventures other than superheroic, this is an ideal book to recommend to crime-fans, thriller-aficionados, and all other acquaintances. You’ll also want a copy for yourself.
© 2007 David Lapham. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Hong Kong


By Doug Moench, & Tony Wong (DC Comics)
ISBN 978-1-4012-0057-2 (HB)                     978-1-4012-0101-2 (TPB)

This Batman outreach project is a surprisingly engaging piece of Hong Kong cinema in comic form by veteran scribe Doug Moench and the anonymous horde of illustrators used by Comics Supremo Tony Wong to churn out literally thousands of lavishly executed Kung Fu comics that have earned him the title “the Stan Lee of Hong Kong”.

The story itself is fairly unsurprising tosh. A serial killer who webcasts his murders as real-time snuff movies leads Batman to the former British colony and a civil war between a Triad leader and his brother: a cop determined to bring him to book.

Add to the mix a dashing young nephew who loves his family but thirsts for justice and you have all the elements for the next Johnny To, Kazuya Shiraishi or Park Hoon-jung blockbuster nerve-jangler.

Although a touch stiff in places and a little disorienting if you’re unused to the rapid art-style transitions of Hong Kong comics (artists and even forms of representation – paint, black line wash, crayon etc. can vary from panel to panel) this has a lot of pace and fairly rattles along. In this anniversary year, Batman: Hong Kong is still loads better and more accessible than many outings for the caped crusader of recent years and well worth the time and effort of any diehard Dark Knight aficionado in sech of a rarer flavour.
© 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Black Dahlia


By Rick Geary (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-178-9

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Thrills and Chills for the Holiday Leisure Season… 9/10

Sometimes you just can’t get enough of a good thing. I’ve never wavered in my admiration for the work of Rick Geary and having two of his best both back in time for Christmas is splendid thinking on the part of publisher NBM.

First read our review of The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans from last week for the usual peroration and guidance. then hunker down here for a briefing on one of the most infamous and culturally significant unsolved murder mysteries in American – if not world – history.

Geary’s unique gifts have never been better utilised than here in this graphic reprise and documentary deconstruction from his ongoing series Treasury of XXth Century Murder: focusing on the Noir-informed, post-war scandal of Elizabeth Short: forever immortalised as the Black Dahlia

Delivered as always in stark, uncompromising monochrome (in luxurious collectors’ hardback, accessible eBook or this welcome new paperback edition), his deliberations diligently sift fact from mythology to detail one of the most appalling murders in modern history.

Opening with the traditional bibliography of sources and detailed maps of Downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood Boulevard (1944-1946) and the body-dump site, Geary diligently unpicks fact from surmise, clue from guesswork beginning with ‘Part One: The Vacant Lot’. Los Angeles California, 1947; on January 15th at around ten o’clock a mother pushes her baby’s stroller past open ground in Downtown’s Leimert Park neighbourhood. When she spots the two halves of a discarded mannikin lying in the grass, something makes her look again…

Soon the scene is a hotbed of activity, with cops (the notoriously corrupt LAPD of Police Chief Clemence B. Horrall) and headline-hungry reporters racing each other to glean facts and credit in a truly sensational killing. After a botched beginning, proper forensic procedure identifies the posed and much-mutilated victim and a call goes out to Medford, Massachusetts. Sadly, the distraught mother is talking to a canny, scruples-shy reporter rather than a police representative…

The history of the victim is deftly précised in ‘Part Two: The Life of Elizabeth Short’ describing a small-town girl from a broken home, gripped by big dreams, a penchant for men in uniform and unverifiable morals…

Flighty, with connections to notable underworld characters and night clubs, Elizabeth has a gift for finding Samaritans to help her out, but as detailed in ‘Part Three: Her Last Days’, with unspecified trouble following her, she walks out of the Biltmore Hotel at 10:PM on January 9th 1947. No one ever sees her again, except presumably her killer…

With attention-seekers of every type climbing on the bandwagon, ‘Part IV: The Investigation’ relates how Captain Jack Donahoe of Central Homicide employs 700 LAPD officers, 400 County Sheriff’s deputies, hundreds of other law-enforcement professionals and even private detectives to trace and interview the hundreds of men connected with Short. In the end there are 150 suspects but not one arrest and despite building a solid picture, he achieves nothing substantive. The case gets even further muddied and sensationalised when – just as public interest is waning – a series of anonymous letters and some of her personal possessions are sent to the press by someone claiming to be the killer…

Of course, those articles and knick-knacks might have already been in journalists’ possession from the first moment they identified her, long before the LAPD did…

The case remains active for years until it’s subsumed in and sidelined by a city-wide gang-war and resultant house-cleaning of corrupt cops in 1949. ‘Part V: Wrap-Up’ details prevailing theories – such as the fact that Short’s death might be part of a string of serial killings the police never connected together, or that she was linked to city officials with the case subsequently covered up from on high. Many more false trails and dead-end leads have come and gone in the decades since. The Black Dahlia murder remains unsolved and the LAPD case files have never been made public.

These grisly events in the tainted paradise of Tinseltown captivated public attention and became part of Hollywood’s tawdry mythology. The killing spawned movies, books and TV episodes, and one tangible result. In February 1947 Republican State Assemblyman C. Don Field responded to the case by proposing a state-wide Registry of Sex Offenders – the first in America’s history. The law was passed before the year ended.

Rick Geary is a unique talent not simply because of his manner of drawing but because of the subject matter and methodology employed in telling his tales. He thrives on hard facts, but devotes time and space to all theories and even contemporary minutiae with absorbing pictorial precision, captivating clarity and devastating dry wit, re-examining each case with a force and power Sherlock Holmes would envy.

He teaches with chilling graphic precision, captivating clarity and devastating dry wit, a perfect exemplar of how graphic narrative can be so much more than simple fantasy entertainment. This merrily morbid series of murder masterpieces should be mandatory reading for all comic fans, mystery addicts and crime collectors.
© 2010 Rick Geary. All Rights Reserved.

Black Dahlia will be published on December 15th 2018 and is available for pre-order now. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Adventures of Tintin: The Crab with the Golden Claws


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-808-6 (HB)                    : 978-0-31619-876-9 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Comics and Presents don’t get better than this… 10/10

Georges Prosper Remi – AKA Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

It’s only fair, though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a passionate and dedicated boy scout – produced his first strip series: The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of the paper’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme and unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work.

He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

Accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities of the world, since the strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Petit Vingtiéme was closed down and Hergé was compelled to move the popular strip to straight daily newspaper. He diligently continued producing strips for the duration, but in the period following Belgium’s liberation was accused of being a collaborator and even a Nazi sympathiser.

It took the intervention of Resistance hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing the cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which he published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands.

With this tale we enter the Golden Age of an iconic creator’s work. Despite being produced whilst Belgium was under the control of Nazi Occupation Forces during World War II, the qualitative leap in all aspects of Hergé’s creativity is tangible.

His homeland fell to the invaders in 1940, and Georges Remi’s brief military career was over. He was a reserve Lieutenant, working on The Land of Black Gold when he was called up, but the swift fall of Belgium meant that he was back at his drawing board before the year’s end, albeit working for a new paper on a brand-new adventure. He would not return to the unfinished ‘Black Gold’, with its highly anti-fascistic subtext, until 1949.

Initially Le Crabe aux pinces d’or featured in children’s supplement Le Soir Jeunesse, from October 17th 1940 to September 3rd 1941, when increasing paper shortages resulted in the kid’s section being axed. The strip continued in parent paper Le Soir (Belgium’s premiere French-language newspaper and a most crucial tool for the occupiers to control minds if not hearts) until conclusion on 18th October 1941: the first of six extraordinary tales of light-hearted, escapist thrills, with strong plots and deep characterisation that created a haven of delight from the daily horrors of everyday life then and remain a legacy of joyous adventure to this day.

On completion it was collected as a monochrome book in 1941 and later serialised in French newspaper Coeurs Vaillants (from June 21st 1942), before being re-released as a full colour volume in 1943. Its success sparked a flurry of reissues of earlier albums – all but Tintin in America and The Black Island, both set in countries Germany was still at war with…

This remastered edition of The Crab with the Golden Claws was modified by Studio Hergé and released in 1953: revised to accommodate the wishes of publishers in the US and UK. It opens with Snowy getting his head caught in an empty crab-meat can whilst scavenging in a trash bin. When Tintin meets the detectives Thompson and Thomson, they discuss their latest case and he sees that a vital piece of evidence is a scrap of label from a crab-meat tin – and it matches the torn label on the can he so recently extricated his bad dog from!

And so begins a superb mystery adventure as Tintin follows his lead to the sinister freighter “Karaboudjan” where he uncovers a sinister criminal enterprise and is nearly murdered before the diabolical first mate Allan (last seen in Cigars of the Pharaoh) shanghaies him.

It is whilst a prisoner that the boy reporter meets a drunken reprobate who would become his greatest companion: The ship’s inebriated Master, Captain Haddock.

Escaping together, they eventually reach the African Coast, with Haddock’s dipsomaniac antics as much a threat to the pair as the gangsters, ocean storms, and deprivation. These trials are masterpieces of comedy cartooning that have never been surpassed.

Despite all odds the heroes survive sea, sands and scoundrels to link up with the military authorities. Making their perilous way to Morocco, battling Berber desert raiders and Haddock’s ongoing hallucinations, the plucky pair – and Snowy – track down the criminals to reveal a huge opium smuggling operation. A fast-paced tour-de-force of art and action, liberally laced with primal comedy and captivating exotic locales, this is quite simply mesmerising fare.

Full of dash, as breathtaking as a rollercoaster ride and as compelling as any Indiana Jones romp, this is classic adventure to match the best of the cinema’s swashbucklers and as suspenseful as a Hitchcock thriller, balancing insane laughs with moments of genuine tension.

Clearly as the world experienced a new Dark Age, Hergé was concentrating on the next -Golden – one…

These ripping yarns for all ages are an unparalleled highpoint in the history of graphic narrative. Their constant popularity proves them to be a worthy addition to the list of world classics of literature.
The Crab with the Golden Claws: artwork © 1953, 1981 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1958 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

GoodCopBadCop


By Jim Alexander, edited by Elinor Winter (Planet JimBot)
ISBN: 978-1-9164535-0-0                  eISBN: 978-1-9164535-1-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Crime Does Not Pay, but it does make for a cracking good read… 9/10

With criminal intent and malice aforethought, comics veteran Jim Alexander has widened his already prodigious and prolific rap sheet by shifting Modus Operandi and releasing a spookily wry novel (available in paperback and a variety of eBook formats) featuring possibly his best – and award-winning – character.

Alexander’s pictorial back-catalogue includes Star Trek the Manga, Calhab Justice and other strips for 2000AD, licensed properties such as Ben 10 and Generator Rex as well as a broad variety of comics and strips for The Dandy, DC, Marvel, Dark Horse Comics, Metal Hurlant, and loads of other places including his own publishing empire Planet Jimbot.

GoodCopBadCop began life as series of contemporary police dramas set in Glasgow and garnered much praise and many awards. Now the characters have seamlessly segued to the realm of Val McDermid and Ian Rankin and the variously-named Celtic or Tartan noir.

If you look it up, experts describe the sub-genre’s influences as James Hogg and Robert Louis Stevenson, focusing on the duality of the soul and the individual, Good against Evil and redemption and damnation. It’s fascinating stuff: you should all read more books without pictures…

This craftily concocted cops’n’robbers saga blends procedural action with a whiff of supernal terror, utilising a gimmick that is perfect for a genre where conflicted, essentially good guys regularly face human monsters and only ever see ordinary folk at their absolute worst…

City of Glasgow Police Inspector Brian Fisher is a worthy, weary, dedicated public servant with the oddest (generally silent) partner an honest copper could ever imagine. And no, it’s not harassed, hard-pressed Detective Sergeant Julie Spencer, who fruitlessly attempts to get her solitary new boss fraternising with other officers after she’s ordered to be his new tag-along assistant… until she gets a glimpse of what her associate is really like…

Before he was a quietly effective Detective with a phenomenal clear-up rate, Fisher learned his trade in the mounted police division and spent many educational hours doing community policing for the Violence Reduction Unit, visiting schools where kids are more ruthlessly ferocious than any full-grown bad guy.

Now he’s solving a lot of nasty cases like abductions, dismemberments and floating human jigsaws in the Clyde with an uncanny display of instinct and perception. It’s like he has an inside track to the mind of maniacs…

All the usual suspects and signature cases of the genre are in attendance: mostly-harmless burglars like local legend the Partick Cat, supposedly-straight domestic problems like Mrs MacPhellimey, missing persons who aren’t, local mobsters and hard-men and their ganglords all come to Fisher’s attention… and most especially raving psycho-killers.

There’s a lot of them and some days they’re turning up on both sides of the Interview Room table…

Obviously, Fisher has some kind of advantage and, as in the manner of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the situation is deteriorating and people are starting to notice…

And that’s where I’m stopping. If you are familiar with the comics iteration, all your favourite moments and characters are here, suitably tweaked for a more internalised, psychologically edged reinterpretation – and a definitive conclusion. If you’re a newcomer, you can revel and reel as a convoluted nested-doll of interlinked mysteries cleverly unwind with startling complexity, loads of twisty-turny surprises and a succession of shocking moments. And that’s all delivered in sparky and bleakly hilarious first-person monologues.

Yeah. Monologues. Plural…

If you don’t read this book, you’ll have to wait for some Wise Soul at BBC Scotland or media clever-clogs chancer to turn this into a movie or late-night Scandi-style drama serial…

Best see it as the creator intended. You’ll thank me for it in the long run…

This deftly underplayed, chillingly believable and outrageously black-humoured yarn is a perfect addition to the annals of Tartan Noir: smart, sarcastic and ferociously engaging. If you like your crime yarns nasty and your heroes deeply flawed, GoodCopBadCop is a book you must not miss.

And when this has sufficiently blown your mind, you really should track down the superb comics by Alexander and his confederates Luke Cooper, Gary McLaughlin, Will Pickering, Aaron Murphy, Chris Twydell & Jim Campbell.

The Jims – Alexander and Campbell – have been providing captivating and enthralling graphic narratives for ages now and you owe it to yourself to catch them too.

Planet Jimbot has a splendid online shop so why not check it out?
© 2018 Jim Alexander.

If you like shopping from the safety of your home, here’s a few useful addresses.
UK
Amazon (print & digital)
Blackwell’s (print)
Kobo (digital)

US
Amazon (print & digital)
Barnes & Noble (print & digital)
Kobo (digital)

The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans


By Rick Geary (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-179-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Cutting Edge Crime and a Ripping Holiday Read… 8/10

For decades he toiled as an Underground cartoonist and freelance illustrator of strange tales and wry oddments, published in locales as varied as Heavy Metal, Epic Illustrated, Twisted Tales, Bop, National Lampoon, Vanguard, Bizarre Sex, Fear and Laughter, Gates of Eden, RAW and High Times.

For these illustrious venues he honed a unique ability to create sublimely understated stories by stringing together seemingly unconnected streams of narrative to compose tales moving, often melancholy and always beguiling.

Discovering his natural oeuvre with works including biographies of J. Edgar Hoover or Trotsky and his multi-volume Treasury of Victorian Murder series, Geary has grown into a grandmaster and towering presence in both comics and True Crime literature.

His graphic reconstructions of some of the most infamous murders ever committed since policing began combine a superlative talent for laconic prose, incisive observation and meticulously detailed pictorial extrapolation. These are filtered through a fascination with and understanding of the lethal propensities of humanity as his forensic eye scours police blotters, newspaper archives and history books to compile irresistibly enthralling documentaries.

In 2008 he turned to the last century for ongoing series Treasury of XXth Century Murder, focusing on scandals which seared the headlines during the “Gilded Age” of suburban middle class America. He has not, however, forsaken his delight in fiction nor his gift for graphic biography.

Delivered in stark monochrome in either luxurious collectors’ hardback, accessible eBook or engaging paperback editions like this one, his investigations diligently sift fact from mythology to detail the grisliest events in modern history.

Geary’s tales are so compelling because the subject matter methodology resonates through his quirky illustration. Geary always presents facts, theories and even contemporary minutiae with absorbing pictorial precision, captivating clarity and devastating dry wit, re-examining each case with a force and power Oliver Stone would envy.

This particular chiller-thriller comes – after far too long a wait – as a cheap-&-cheerful paperback release of a 2010 offering but it’s still a grand outing for lovers of macabre history…

Geary’s forensic eye scoured the data and scores a palpable if rather unpalatable hit here with a relatively unknown serial killer saga that would make an incredible film – if only the fiend had ever been caught!

In 1918 with the Great War moving into the inevitable End-game the iconic and legend-laden city of New Orleans suffered a chilling campaign of terror that lasted well over a year with far-reaching repercussions felt clear across the United States.

As explained in the captivating capsule history that opens this moreish monochrome and exceedingly noir thriller, New Orleans was founded by the French in 1717, lost to the Spanish in 1763, seized by Napoleon in 1802 and then sold to the Americans a year later. That makes it one of the oldest and certainly most eclectic, eccentric, artistic and elegant cities in the USA.

By 1918 it was a huge, sprawling and vital hub of trade and commerce, peopled by a vast melting pot of immigrant populations. On the night of May 23rd an Italian couple running a grocery store were hacked to death by an intruder who broke into their home and attacked them with their own household axe.

Over the next 18 months a phantom killer would, under the horrifying glare of public scrutiny, kill six people, maim and mutilate another half dozen and hold the entire city a virtual hostage with insane proclamations and demands. He – if it was, indeed, a man – was often seen but never apprehended.

Geary is as meticulous and logical as ever, forensically dissecting the various attacks, examining the similarities and, more importantly, the differences whilst dutifully pursuing the key figures to their unlikely ends.

All the victims were grocers of Italian origin (leading to a supposed Mafia connection) except for the ones who were not, which possibly refuted the theory but equally suggested opportunistic copy-cat killers. A number of personal grievances among the victims led to many false arrests and even convictions, and the killer or killers left many survivors who all agreed on a general description but all subsequently identified different suspects. There’s even a broader than usual hint of supernatural overtones.

Occurring at the very birth of the Jazz Age, this utterly compelling tale is jam-packed with intriguing snatches of historical minutiae, plus beautifully rendered maps and plans which bring the varied locations to moody life: yet another Geary production tailor-made for a Cluedo special edition!

The author presents the facts and theories with chilling graphic precision, captivating clarity and devastating dry wit, and this enigma is every bit as compelling as his other homicidal forays: a perfect example of how graphic narrative can be so much more than simple fantasy entertainment. This merrily morbid series of murder masterpieces should be mandatory reading for all comic fans, mystery addicts and crime collectors.
© 2010 Rick Geary. All Rights Reserved.

The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans will be published on December 15th 2018 and is available for pre-order now. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com.

Sandman Mystery Theatre: Book One


By Matt Wagner, Guy Davis, John Watkiss, R.G. Taylor, David Hornung & John Costanza (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6327-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Eerie Mystery-Mood Masterpiece… 8/10

Created by Gardner Fox and first depicted by Bert Christman, The Sandman premiered in either Adventure Comics #40 July 1939 (two months after Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27) or two weeks earlier in New York World’s Fair Comics 1939, depending on whether some rather spotty distribution records can be believed.

Head and face utterly obscured by a gasmask and slouch hat; caped, business-suited millionaire adventurer Wesley Dodds was cut from the iconic masked mystery-man mould that had made pulp fictioneers The Lone Ranger, Green Hornet, The Shadow, Phantom Detective, Black Bat, The Spider and so many more such household names. Those dark red-handed heroes were also astonishing commercial successes in the early days of mass periodical publication…

Wielding a sleeping-gas gun and haunting the night to battle a string of killers, crooks and spies, he was accompanied in the earliest comicbooks by his plucky paramour Dian Belmont, before gradually losing the readers’ interest and slipping from cover-spot to last feature in Adventure Comics, just as the cloaked pulp-hero avengers he emulated slipped from popularity in favour of more flamboyant fictional fare.

Possessing a certain indefinable style and charm but definitely no especial pizzazz, the feature was on the verge of being dropped when the Sandman abruptly switched to a skin-tight yellow-&-purple costume and gained a boy-sidekick, Sandy the Golden Boy (in Adventure Comics #69, December 1941, courtesy of Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris). All this, presumably to emulate the overwhelmingly successful Batman and Captain America models then reaping such big dividends on the newsstands.

It didn’t help much, but when Joe Simon & Jack Kirby came aboard with #72 that all spectacularly changed. A semi-supernatural element and fascination with the world of dreams (revisited by S&K a decade later in their short-lived experimental suspense series The Strange World of Your Dreams) added a moody conceptual punch to equal the kinetic fury of their art, as Sandman and Sandy became literally the stuff of nightmares to the bizarre bandits and murderous mugs they stalked…

For what happened next you can check out the superb Simon & Kirby Sandman hardback collection…

Time passed and in the late 1980s Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith & Mike Dringenberg took the property in a revolutionary new direction, eventually linking all the previous decades’ elements into an overarching connective continuity under DC’s new “sophisticated suspense” imprint Vertigo.

Within a few years the astounding success of the new Sandman prompted the editorial powers-that-be to revisit the stylishly retro original character and look at him through more mature eyes. Iconoclastic creator Matt Wagner (Mage, Grendel) teamed with artistic adept Guy Davis (Baker Street, B.P.R.D.) and colourist David Hornung to create a grittier, grimier, far more viscerally authentic 1930s, where the haunted mystery man pursued his lonely crusade with chilling verisimilitude.

The tone was darkly modernistic, with the crime-busting playing out in the dissolute dog-days of the Jazz Age and addressed controversial themes such as abuse, sexual depravity, corruption and racism; all confronted against the rising tide of fascism that was sweeping the world then.

This is a warning: Sandman Mystery Theatre is not for kids…

This compendium collections the redefining first three story-arcs from issues #1-12 (April 1993 to March 1994) and commences after an absorbing introduction from veteran journalist, critic and pop culture historian Dave Marsh.

Each chapter preceded by its original evocative faux pulp photo cover created by Gavin Wilson and Hornung, the dark drama opens with The Tarantula, taking us back to New York in 1938 where District Attorney Larry Belmont is having the Devil’s own time keeping his wild-child daughter out of trouble and out of the newspapers.

She’s gallivanting all over town every night with her spoiled rich friends; drinking, partying and associating with all the wrong sorts of people, but the prominent public servant has far larger problems too. One is a mysterious gas-masked figure he finds rifling his safe soon after Dian departs…

The intruder easily overpowers the DA with some kind of sleeping gas – which also makes you want to blurt every inconvenient truth – before disappearing, leaving Belmont to awake with a headache and wondering if it was all a dream…

Dian, after a rowdy night of carousing with scandalous BFF Catherine Van Der Meer and her latest (gangster) lover, awakes with a similar hangover but still agrees to attend one of her father’s dreary public functions that evening. The elder Belmont is particularly keen that she meet a studious young man named Wesley Dodds, recently returned from years in the Orient to take over his deceased dad’s many business interests.

Dodds seems genteel and effete, yet Dian finds there’s something oddly compelling about him. Moreover, he too seems to feel a connection…

The Gala breaks up early when the DA is informed of a sensational crime. Catherine Van Der Meer has been kidnapped by someone identifying himself as The Tarantula

Across town, mob boss Albert Goldman is meeting with fellow gangsters from the West Coast and, as usual, his useless son Roger and drunken wife Miriam embarrass him. Daughter Celia is the only one he can depend on these days, but even her unwavering devotion seems increasingly divided. After another stormy scene the conference ends early, and the visiting crime-lords are appalled to find their usually diligent bodyguards all soundly asleep in their limousines…

Even with Catherine kidnapped, Dian is determined to go out that night, but when Wesley arrives unexpectedly she changes her mind, much to her father’s relief. That feeling doesn’t last long however, after the police inform him that the Tarantula has taken another woman…

When a hideously mutilated body is found Dian inveigles herself into accompanying dear old Dad to Headquarters but is promptly excluded from the grisly “Man’s Business”. Left on her own, she begins snooping in the offices and encounters a bizarre gas-masked figure poring through files. Before she can react, he dashes past her and escapes, leaving her to explain to the assorted useless lawmen cluttering up the place.

Furious and humiliated, Dian then insists that she officially identifies Catherine and nobody can dissuade her.

Shockingly, the savagely ruined body is not her best friend but yet another victim…

Somewhere dark and hidden, Van Der Meer is being tortured but the perpetrator has far more than macabre gratification in mind…

In the Goldman house Celia is daily extending her control over darling devoted daddy. They still share a very special secret, but these days she’s the one dictating where and when they indulge themselves…

With all the trauma in her life Dian increasingly finds Wesley a comforting rock, but perhaps that view would change if she knew how he spends his nights. Dodds is plagued and tormented by bad dreams. Not his own nightmares, but rather the somnolent screams of nameless victims and their cruel oppressors haunt his troubled sleep. Worst of all these dreams are somehow prophetic and unrelenting. What else could a decent man do then, but act to end such suffering?

In a seedy dive, uncompromising Police Lieutenant Burke comes off worst when he discovers the gas-mask lunatic grilling a suspect in “his” kidnapping case and again later when this “Sandman” is found at a factory where the vehicle used to transport victims is hidden.

Even so, the net is inexorably tightening on both Tarantula and the insane vigilante interfering in the investigation but Burke doesn’t know who he most wants in a nice, dark interrogation room…

As the labyrinthine web of mystery and monstrosity slowly unravels, tension mounts and the death toll climbs, but can The Sandman stop the torrent of depraved terror before the determined Dian finds herself swept up in all the blood and death?

Of course, he does but not without appalling consequences…

Scene and scenario suitably set, John Watkiss steps in to illuminate second saga The Face (issues #5-8). Attention switches to Chinatown in February of 1938, where Dian and her gal-pals scandalously dine and dish dirt until Miss Belmont meets again an old lover.

Jimmy Shan once worked in her father’s office but now serves as lawyer and fixer for his own people amongst the teeming restaurants, gambling dens and bordellos of the oriental district…

Dian would be horrified to see Jimmy – or Zhang Chai Lao as his Tong masters know him – consorting with unsavoury criminals, and would certainly not be considering reviving her scandalous out-of-hours relationship with him. All frivolous thoughts vanish, however, when the diners vacate the restaurant and stumble upon a severed head: a warning that the ruling factions are about to go to war again in Chinatown. As usual, white police are utterly ineffectual against the closed ranks of the enclave…

Later at a swanky charity soiree to raise money for a school, Dian meets Jimmy again and agrees to a later meeting. At the same shindig she later sees Wesley, and in the course of their small talk, Dodds reveals that he recognises Shan from somewhere…

And in Chinatown, another beheading leads to greater tension between the Lee Feng and Hou Yibai Societies. When an enigmatic gas-masked stranger starts asking unavoidable questions, he finds that both Tongs deny all knowledge of the killings…

As the grisly murder-toll mounts, The Sandman’s investigations lead to one inescapable conclusion: a third party is responsible. But who, and why…

Before the drama closes, Dian will learn more hard truths about the world and the money-men who secretly run it…

Issues #9-12 (December 1993-March 1994) are illustrated by R.G. Taylor and plumb the darkest depths of human depravity in the tale of ‘The Brute’.

The friendship of Dian and Wesley slowly deepens and life seems less fraught in the city, but that soon ends as hulking degenerate stalks the back-alleys, killing and brutalising prostitutes and their clients…

Dodds is also on the mind of boxing promoter and businessman Arthur Reisling who’s looking for a fresh financial partner in his global exploitations. The effete-seeming scholar is hard to convince, though, unlike Eddie Ramsey. He’s a poverty-stricken pugilist and single parent desperate to make enough money to pay for his daughter Emily’s TB medicine. Riesling’s offer to him is just as scurrilous but the broken-down pug doesn’t have the luxury of saying “no”…

Eventually, with Dian in tow, Wesley accepts a party invitation from the speculator and meets his dynasty of worthless, over-privileged children. None of them seem right or well-adjusted…

Later, when Eddie tries to come clean by informing the authorities of Riesling’s illegal fight events, he’s attacked by the promoter’s thugs and saved by the Sandman – at least until the colossal mystery killer attacks them both and they’re forced to flee for their lives…

As Dodds returns home to recuperate, the punishing dreams escalate to mind-rending intensity.

Eddie, meanwhile, is left with no safe option and takes to the streets with Emily. His decision will lead to revolting horror, total tragedy and utter heartbreak…

The Sandman returns to his covert surveillance, silently unearthing the depths of Reisling’s underworld activities and coincidentally exposing a turbulent and dysfunctional atmosphere in the magnate’s home life to match his criminal activities. In this house corruption of every type runs deep and wide, and the masked avenger decides it’s time to bring his findings to Dian’s father. This time, District Attorney Belmont is prepared to listen and to act…

And as the murders mount and Dodds’ dreams escalate in intensity, the strands of a bloody tapestry begin to knot together and the appalling secret of the bestial killer’s connection to Reisling is exposed, only a detonation of expiating violence can restore order…

Stark, compelling and ferociously absorbing, the bleak thrillers depict a cruel but incisive assessment of good and evil no devotee of dark drama should miss, and the period perils come accompanied by a gallery of the series’ original, groundbreaking comicbook photo-covers and posters by Gavin Wilson plus later collection covers and related art from Matt Wagner, Alex Toth and Kent Wilson
© 1993, 1994, 1995, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: King Ottokar’s Sceptre


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-619-8 (HB)                    : 978-0-31613-383-8 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi – AKA Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

Like Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

It’s only fair, though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a passionate and dedicated boy scout – produced his first strip series: The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécles children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme and unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work.

He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

Accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

Originally published as a weekly monochrome strip Le Sceptre d’Ottokar ran from August 4th 1938 to August 10th 1939. The rousing Ruritanian saga of plot and counter-plot was designed as a satirical critique of Nazi Germany’s nefarious expansionist policies, but in a remarkably short course of time real life terrifyingly caught up with fictional hijinks. Another commercial winner, the tale was promptly released in collected book form upon conclusion and Herge’s team moved straight on to new serial Land of Black Gold. That tale was curtailed by the fall of Belgium in 1940 and the closure of Le Vingtiéme Siécle. We’ll talk more about that later…

When the war ended and Tintin led a resurgence of European comics, Le Sceptre d’Ottokar, was revived, reformatted, reconditioned and rereleased in a full-colour album. It was the first book to make the jump to English editions – in 1956 – and was adapted for the small screen by Belvision Studios. Twice in fact, as Canada’s Ellipse/Nelvana crafted their own animated version in 1991.

Older British readers might have another reason to recall this tale. Many of them had an early introduction to Tintin and his dog (then called Milou, as in the French editions) when fabled comic The Eagle began running King Ottokar’s Sceptre in translated instalments on their prestigious full-colour centre section in 1951.

During the Occupation, Hergé continued producing comic strips for Le Soir and in the period following Belgium’s liberation was accused of being a collaborator and even a Nazi sympathiser.

It took the intervention of Resistance hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing the cash to create the magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which he published. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands.

The story itself is pure escapist magic as a chance encounter via a park bench leads our youthful hero on a mission of utmost diplomatic importance to the European kingdom of Syldavia. This picturesque principality stood for a number of countries such as Czechoslovakia that were in the process of being subverted by Nazi insurrectionists at time of writing.

Tintin becomes a surveillance target for enemy agents and, after a number of life-threatening near misses, flies to Syldavia with his new friend. The sigillographer Professor Alembick is an expert on Seals of Office and his research trip coincides with a sacred ceremony wherein the Ruler must annually display the fabled sceptre of King Ottokar to the populace or lose his throne.

When the sceptre is stolen it takes all of Tintin’s luck and cunning to prevent an insurrection and the overthrow of the country by enemy provocateurs…

Full of dash, as breathtaking as a rollercoaster ride and as compelling as any Bond movie, this is classic adventure story-telling to match the best of the cinema’s swashbucklers and as suspenseful as a Hitchcock thriller, balancing insane laughs with moments of genuine tension.

Clearly just as the world headed into a new Dark Age, Hergé was entering a Golden one…

These ripping yarns for all ages are an unparalleled highpoint in the history of graphic narrative. Their constant popularity proves them to be a worthy addition to the list of world classics of literature.
King Ottokar’s Sceptre: artwork © 1947, 1975 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1958 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.